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Trying to decypher the Cultural Revolution


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I was one of the first Western students allowed to study in China towards the end of the Cultural Revolution period. In entered China on September 13 1975 to study for a year at the Beijing Language Institute (now Beijing Language & Culture University).


I turned out to be the final year of the Cultural Revolution period. It was quite an eventful year. Apart from absorbing all those impressions of living, walking, cycling through the Beijing of the mid 1970s, we set on the first row to witness the genuine grief for the death of 40-year premier Zhou Enlai and were even invited to present our condolences to some of the top leaders. That grief later led to the first Tian’anmen incident in April 1976.


We spent a week in a People’s Commune in October 1975 and a week in the Dong’an Dept. Store in March 1976, as part of the curriculum. I am uploading a picture of me selling pastries there.

I recently published a book about that year in China, entitled One Turbulent Year – China 1975:




Writing this did not only bring back a host of memories, but also made me wonder again how the Cultural Revolution could have started in the first place. Chinese have always been very eclectic and extremism is therefore very alien to them. Explaining it by Mao Zedong’s ‘call for a CR’ alone seems far too simple.


We can explain the success of the Nazi’s in Germany through the humiliation of that country after WWI, but such a historic cause does not apply to the CR in China either. It seems like an interesting theme to exchange ideas about.

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Thank you for sharing this. I will attempt to purchase a copy when finances permit, maybe i will put it on my xmas present list. One thing, I hope it is printed black on white as the white on red in your link above is very hard on the eyes 8)


I think it must not be forgotten that a lot of what went on was as a result of cult of personality. it was driven by this, probably wrongly, passion for one person.


We now know different, but at the time the people believed he had their best interests at heart.


My mother was in Germany before and during the second war and she said that at the time because of the problems after WWW 1 the things he did actually made Germany better so from a German person's point of view he was helping the country but of course WWW 2 was not. I am not saying he was not bad but just from a different point of view at a different time things looked different.


I also think that there was an element of cult of personality in Hilter's rise to power too.

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Very interesting, I'd really like to take a look. 


The website seems incredibly slow to load however is there an alternative/simple text version available? 


Will the whole book be available or just part of it?

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From my candid point of view, some factors in the Cultural Revolution :

- The Cultural Revolution gave a sense of empowerment to the youth (which also seduced in Europe some students and even some intellectuals).

- New scapegoats were brougth into attention (after the landowners are all dead, the new enemies are the teachers, the writers), whereas China suffered  the consequences of the Great leap Forward.

- Everyone feared to be politically denonced, leading to even more brutal savagery.

- And maybe something in China relationship to its own history, with sometimes destructing its past (the Qin Dynasty burning confucian books) or the fact that China kept alive technics rather that patrimonial objects and buildings.


Sorry for my akward english expression.



Edit : the subject is also discussed on China History Forum


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